Freedom looms for Heidelberg

Left, attorney Don Jackson with attorney Andy Hale partially hidden, stand in front of Cleve Heidelberg who is speaking with the Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH  Coalition.

Right, Cleve Heidelberg’s sister Mae Winston speaks at a press conference after learning her brother will be released on bail.

BY CLARE HOWARD

After nearly half a century in prison on a murder conviction, Cleve Heidelberg will walk out of jail within the next few days on $500,000 bond with a GPS monitoring system.

Judge Albert Purham set bond significantly below the $5 million requested by the state but refused to allow Heidelberg to live in Cleveland with a friend while awaiting a decision from the appellate court.

Prosecutor Matt Jones appealed Purham’s ruling last month vacating Heidelberg’s conviction.

During a nearly two-hour hearing Friday, Jones questioned Ken Tupy, an attorney on the prisoner review board that has ruled 25 times over the past 47 years not to grant Heidelberg parole.

Jones meticulously went through Heidelberg’s conduct while in prison and cited a number of minor infractions and five incidents involving fighting with other inmates, one involving stabbing an inmate with a pencil, one involved using a sock filled with batteries as a weapon and one report referred to a modified razor blade. Tupy said based on this record, Heidelberg was considered a “moderate” prisoner, but the prisoner review board also relied on a report from the Peoria County State’s Attorney’s office that had originally prosecuted Heidelberg and has consistently refused to consider new evidence.

In a stunning exchange, Heidelberg’s attorney Andy Hale asked Tupy if he were aware of any of the developments in the case over the past year.

Tupy was not. The prison review board most recently denied parole in December 2016, almost a year after Hale began systematically discrediting and dismantling the evidence that had been used by the Peoria County State’s Attorney’s office in the original conviction.

Tupy admitted he did not know Matt Clark who testified under oath that his brother James Clark had confessed to shooting Espinoza. He did not know Lester Mason who testified under oath he had borrowed Heidelberg’s car on the night of the shooting and loaned it to James Clark. He did not know two eyewitnesses were actually unable to identify Heidelberg.

Hale said five fights over nearly half a century amounts to one fight a decade. He said prison is a violent place and prisoners must be constantly prepared to defend themselves. Tupy admitted he did not know any details about who initiated the five fights.

Heidelberg consistently has maintained his innocence since his arrest in May 1970 following the shooting death of Peoria County Sheriff’s Deputy Ray Espinoza at the Bellevue Drive-In movie theater.

Prosecutor Jones read the court a victim statement by Phyllis Espinoza, daughter of the slain officer. Espinoza objected to allowing Heidelberg to live in Cleveland because she visits family in Cleveland and would feel unsafe knowing Heidelberg was living in that city.

In the statement, Espinoza said her mother had received death threats during the trial and went to every single parole hearing to object to Heidelberg’s release until the day she died.

Hale said Heidelberg is 74 years old, has congestive heart failure, a bad back and limited vision. He does not pose a threat to anyone.

“He has been trying to prove his innocence for nearly 50 years. He is no danger,” Hale said.

Jones countered that even “minor violations paint a mosaic of infraction by infraction by infraction” showing a refusal to obey authority.

The judge ordered Heidelberg to remain at the Peoria County Jail until housing has been arranged in the Chicago area and a GPS program is set up.

Hale called the judge’s decision a victory and said before he walked out of the courtroom Friday afternoon, he already had received a commitment for half the $50,000 bail needed because Illinois requires 10 percent of the bond.

 

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